Texas winters confuse my Northeastern sense of seasons -- we basically jump from 80 degrees one day to 60 the next, for several months between the winter holidays and sometime in April, before the real heat
kicks back in -- but spring is nonetheless unmistakable. Friends shared photos on Facebook of a snowy Brooklyn sunrise this morning while we stepped outside into a gentle, misting Texas rain. I adore rainy days and am usually disappointed by their brevity here in Austin, but today's rain picked up and found its steady rhythm right up until the time Kaspar came home from school. Then, the birds began singing, the breezes smelled of watered earth, and we headed outside for a walk, to hunt for the many signs of spring.
Kaspar, like all kids, loves seasonal activities; reading books about the seasons, talking about what distinguishes them, and making time to experience their changes together helps him to connect with his environment, and to expand his understanding of his world (not to mention his vocabulary). Now three years old, he has the motor skills and attention span for more complex activities -- like origami or fairy-house construction (see below) -- and he's still filled with wonder at this planet's every detail. Spring is a particularly magical time of natural regeneration and growth, and celebrating the season as a family reminds us adults, too, of the wonder that's all around us, just outside our door, and within our homes and hearts. Read on for ten ways we're celebrating springtime with our preschooler; I hope you and your kids have fun with these ideas, and expand upon them. Please feel free to share other ways you've found to celebrate spring, too, in the comments!
Kaspar discovered a "Daddy snail and baby snail" while searching for signs of spring.
1. Take a walk in the woods (or just around your neighborhood) and search for signs of spring:
Spring can be found through all five of our senses. The sounds of birds singing; the feeling of warm breezes or cold mud on our skin; the smell of thawing (or just-rained-on) earth, the taste of seasonal produce and the sight of daffodils, earthworms and budding trees all speak to us of springtime. Walking without a physical destination or a time commitment, but instead with the express purpose of paying attention to one's senses and surroundings, helps kids cultivate mindful awareness in the here and now, which is oh-so-enjoyable at this time of year. 2. Do some spring cleaning:
I've been clearing out my closets
(and bringing in the house-cleaning pros) for a couple of months now, and have been enjoying every inch of my less-cluttered, spic n' span space. There's really something to be said for getting rid of what you don't need, on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels, as well. All three mark important -- and easily-shafted, when things get busy, so it's all the more important to make a point of prioritizing them -- practices for parents... and all people, really. You'll find, in this practice, those shoes you haven't worn in two years, but also the secret to sanity. As it happens, kids love to clean, too. But let's be honest; they're not always all that effective at it. Don't let that stop you from cleaning house as a family; giving kids real jobs to do
provides them with a sense of independence, accomplishment and capability that's worth so much more than properly-folded laundry. Expand upon the definition of 'real jobs', too; Kaspar held a car wash in our driveway last week, and proceeded to "clean" all of his Hot Wheels cars for over an hour. Materials? One container, some water, two wash cloths and a few toys. Cost? Zero dollars. One hour of outdoor, TV-free, self-directed entertainment? Priceless.
3. Celebrate the solstice:
Last year, we celebrated Easter
, because I missed the solstice entirely and Easter was a (totally successful) backup plan. But this year, we're on our game! The solstice is officially March 21st, but we're going to do our thing on the 23rd, since the latter date is a Saturday. We're planning a picnic with friends complete with some outdoor playtime, and perhaps with a bit watercolor painting thrown in. At home, we'll plant some flowers in our backyard (our zinnias
ended up thriving last year -- they got HUGE -- and they needed exceptionally little care), read some springtime books -- here's a good one
for kiddos about the equinox itself, with lots of ideas for ways to celebrate, and here's another lovely one
about a little boy's anticipation and enjoyment of spring -- and start a few new family traditions: making a springtime altar and having a treat hunt around the house are definitely happening. 4. Grow and bloom:
This idea comes from the book I Love Dirt!
, a wonderful resource for outdoor-oriented activities with kids. It's pretty simple, but preschool-aged kids love it; younger toddlers will, too. When talking/learning/exploring on the topic of plants growing from the earth, suggest to your kids -- and believe me, if you DO this, they will too -- that you and they act like new blades of grass, or new flowers. Crouch low to the ground, and then grow! Bloom! Slowly stand up and stretch toward the sky. Then do it all again. This will bring out your kids' inner yogis
(who, trust me, aren't very hidden at all), and get their physical-activity endorphins pumping. 5. Start a garden:
Whether you're re-potting a few countertop-container herbs, starting vegetable seedlings that'll eventually move outside, or putting a whole bunch of stuff in the ground itself, gardening is a wonderful way to get kids working with their hands and connecting with their food.
Source: Gardening Adventures with Alexis
6. Install a bird feeder
: By which I mean, hang one up on a branch outside your house. (Or, if you don't have branches, from your fire escape or whatever!) This doesn't have to be expensive; you can make a bird-feeding craft
, or go for something more permanent (hummingbird feeders are cool), but be sure to involve your preschooler in every step of this project. They'll love it, from start to finish. And, if you build it, they will come -- birds, squirrels, and all manner of endlessly-fascinating wildlife to watch for weeks and months to come. 7. Make origami butterflies:
Kaspar's Montessori class recently learned about -- and made -- origami for an entire week, and the kids loved
it. They learned to make frogs and butterflies; you can find lots of kid-friendly origami instructions
online. We attended an art opening/open house event at Kaspar's school and admired all of the folded-paper butterflies
, which decorated his classroom's windows: a wonderful, colorful decorating idea for crafty preschool-aged kiddos in the mood for spring.
8. Visit a nursery, and/or your local botanical gardens
: Prompted by my recent (vertical) nesting
instinct, our family headed over to a local nursery last week, and returned home with two new houseplants. One is now hanging in our kitchen, and the other's a floor-plant in the living room. Before we left, however, we explored the heck out of the place, which boasted a balmy green house, a koi pond, a funky little cafe, and plants everywhere
. (Obviously, right?) It felt like some kind of car-free, super-green alternate universe to me, anyway, not to mention Kaspar, who was out of his mind with happiness, high on fresh oxygen and free to roam without recourse... within eyesight and earshot, of course. We were there for well over an hour, and although -- after multiple reminders that it was time to leave -- we finally carried a kicking-and-screaming Kaspar back to our car (THREE years old, y'all, is a bit of a challenge at times), it was time well spent. Little man slept like a baby that night, and has been asking to go back ever since. We certainly will, but we might revisit our local botanical gardens
first. We've been before, but not since last spring, and rumor has it the place is about to be filled in beautiful blooms.
At our local nursery. (Kaspar carried that flamingo around the whole time.)
9. Jump in puddles:
This is another simple one, but it's not overrated. Kids love, love, love puddle-jumping, as we've all noticed. It's pretty fun for grown-ups, too. It really doesn't rain very frequently here, so when it does, I insist on going outside immediately and running around like a lunatic. Kaspar can never quite believe his luck, and jumps right into the action. Best rain-play follow-up activity? Get out of those wet clothes and into a warm bath, kiddo and all. 10. Build a fairy house:
while you're out in the woods, the garden, or your backyard, why not build a house for some springtime fairies
? It's like fort-building, only in miniature: your kids will re-imagine sticks, moss, wildflowers, rocks and other natural materials into walls, beds, roofs and chimneys. This is fun on one's own (watch kiddo concentrate) or as a collaborative project among friends or siblings, and it's a great way to spend a weekend morning outdoors.
This summer has been nothing compared to last year's record-long stretch of 100+ degrees days, but it's still officially August in Texas (and today was officially 104 degrees at 4:30 PM, or so said my car). Which basically means it's hotter than hell outside, which you may or may not know if you actually live here, because chances are you're indoors for most of the day rockin' the non-stop AC. It's a basic instinct, for sure, to move inside when the weather gets hostile, but it's not a great plan with a toddler. Not for season-long stretches, anyway. As much as I appreciate indoor climate control, the New Englander (and, frankly, the World Citizen) in me is also a little uncomfortable with the unsustainable nature of the Texan A/C habit (and its cousin, the car-transport fix); I rebel by turning ours off, opening our windows, and heading outside with el kiddo in the morning hours. I'm okay with being a little warm in the summer time! And I like the backdrop of outside sounds -- cicadas, wind-blown trees, birdsong -- to flow into our days and home.
Last year, the weather really did hit a too-hot spot, and we had cabin fever, for real. This year, the heat is bearable until about 11, when the sun beats down oppressively and it only makes sense (safety first) to head in for a light lunch and a long siesta (with the windows, unfortunately, closed). But before then, I make a point to run the boy around in the fresh (if sticky-hot) air, because littles are meant to run, swing and splash; I refuse to let mine stare at screens all day long. Last year, this meant he was literally drawing on our walls. This year, I know the enemy -- Texas heat -- and I've learned a few tricks for outsmarting it. My motto is I ain't afraid. Read on for our summer survival basics, toddler-style.
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It’s officially hotter than hell here in Texas, and although we’d already been deep in the thick of it for months at this time last year, the heat has come on strong, and all-of-a-sudden; we’ve hit 105 degrees this week, I believe—maybe higher. Aside from serious brow-furrowing concern about our planet slowly melting and our species not actually being designed to survive very well in raging hot places (like, say, future-Earth), I actually haven’t been too bothered by our recent wave. Air conditioning is SOP in these parts, and I’ve had a bunch of work projects lately, so have been holed away in my cool home office most days. I well remember the cabin fever that last year brought on, though; it started to feel weirdly like a New England winter, when we realized sometime in early August we’d been constantly indoors for months on end. In order to keep that at bay for as long as possible this
summer, I’ve been heading outside with Kaspar in the early evenings for brief, but regular, fresh-air escapes. Running around for too long, even at that time of day, is not a great idea, but water play is most welcome with the littles at any time, and especially when it’s steamy.
We’re white-trashing it up with the garden hoses and naked kiddos out on the driveway on the regular, and we’re also finding ways to incorporate water into typically-non-water-related activities, just for fun. One recent accidental discovery occurred when Kaspar and his friend J (of previous Alt-Mama appearance
fame) were playing with sidewalk chalk on our front porch; we all went inside to fetch glasses of water (for hydration), and Kaspar (of course) spilled his as soon as we made it outside. The kids started drawing with the chalk in the puddle—which was also basically steaming – and we all marveled at the unique effect the water had on the chalk; its colors were ultra-bold and its application went on thick and paint-like.
So what did we do? We 1) poured our drinking water all over the porch in puddle after puddle, calling each puddle a canvas and creating art that would have made Jackson Pollack proud. Then, 2) the masterpieces changed before our very eyes as the water evaporated and the colors went light again. (There, instructions!) Although it looked, when they were done, like the Muppets had been murdered on our doorstep, the kids had a blast making footprints (both watery and chalky) and handprints, and kept at it for at least an hour before it was bath time (they were both utterly covered in chalk); because there was plenty of water involved – without being outright wasteful, as per the hose – they also stayed cool throughout the endeavor.
I’m on the lookout for more fun, heat-resistant activities for the summer’s duration; I’ll keep you posted as we create and/or discover them. Now tell me— what are your favorite ways to play and keep cool?
Kaspar mixes (brown rice flour) pancake batter.
A friend of mine, who’s in her fifties, confessed to me the other day that she’s “domestically challenged.” (I’ll call her Sally.) What she said is true, too—her house is a mess of piles, clutter, pet hair and unfinished projects – and, despite seeking help in any number of forms (talk therapy, hypnosis, organizational consultants), she’s continues to struggle to keep her home environment tidy and clean. What caught my attention about her commenting on this, other than feeling a little surprised that she’s consciously aware of it, was her own perspective on why keeping her home clean and organized is such a challenge for her (she lives alone, except for the pets). She vividly recalls her mother discouraging her, as a child, from helping with any household tasks. Her mother wanted things done a certain way, and with four kids to juggle, she refused to allow her littles to thwart the progress she made as she undertook the (surely endless stream of) household chores. “I wasn’t allowed to help, so I just never learned to keep house,” Sally says, now decades later. Sally remembers her mother fondly, as well, and although she doesn’t have children herself, she can now appreciate the level of stress her mother must have managed with a household full of small children. But I’m guessing her explanation of the source of her own domestic limitations is likely accurate, and it struck me as an important one that I need to bear in mind as I go about parenting Kaspar.
The all-important job of taste-testing.
Juggling work and parenting is a constant dance in our house; both are high-touch activities for us, and household tasks get done in fits and bursts as we go through our days—we throw laundry into the washer between work calls, tackle the dishes before running out the door, sweep the floor when something gets stuck to the bottom of our feet. We’ll occasionally clear an entire weekend day for deep cleaning, or hire a green cleaning service to do it for us, but our usual cleaning routine is ongoing and not ‘routine’ at all. Piles do pile up, but we don’t let things get out of hand. We're not OCD about it – because with a two-year-old in the house, we’d be unable to cope -- but both Aaron and I value a clean, uncluttered home as most conducive to calm minds and overall happiness. (I’d feel instantly depressed arriving home to a house like Sally’s.) So while neither of us particularly gets off on cleaning (how I wish), we try to stay on top of it, prizing efficiency above all. Until recently, anyway.
Enter: Kaspar. He can undo twenty minutes’ work in two, all in the name of ‘helping.’ And let’s be honest: this can be frustrating when folding laundry is not a top ‘priority’, (deadlines and bedtime loom) yet still needs to be done. As Sally recalled her mother stopping her from participating in household tasks in the name of their more efficient, or effective, accomplishment, though, I could see and hear myself in her description. “Kaspar, please stop! I just folded all of that,” – I’ve said this many times. I’m not a jerk about it, but I definitely don’t always incorporate Kaspar into the chores I’m trying to do. If he’s clearly making a mess of them, and if I catch myself feeling exasperated, I’ll usually leave the job half-done and move our little operation into a more play-friendly setting outdoors, or amidst toys in another room. But as Sally told me her story, it dawned on me that Kaspar really wants to help, with lots of tasks, and that I’ve been going about it all wrong. I should encourage his “help”, whether it’s really helpful or not.
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I got a new camera this past week and, as I figure out how to wield it, thought this a good time to show you around Kaspar’s room. I’ve been meaning to give you the grand house tour, now that —eight months after moving in—we’re finally beginning to feel settled in our new home. We’ve been slowly
chipping away – as we do with everything, now that we’re rolling family style – hanging artwork, purchasing furniture, and figuring out what goes where. We place a high priority on creating a home environment that facilitates the way we live, which is very much in the midst of each other; thus, creating spaces that are adult and child-friendly has been the name of the game. Kaspar’s room, however, is Kaspar’s very own
environment. It’s pretty much complete, at this point, though it’ll surely change as he grows; I took some tips from the Montessori philosophy and kept it streamlined, bright, and conducive to both independent and cooperative play. So come on in. Let’s break it down.
This (above) is the view from Kaspar’s doorway—it’s the wall (and ceiling things) above his bed. I considered hanging photos but instead went with an instructional origami crane wall decal by husband-and-wife design team NouWall
. The ceilings in our home are luxuriously high, which makes the rooms feel more open; in the interest of capitalizing on that vertical space, I also hung a pendant paper lamp and some colorful Tibetan prayer flags. These draw the eye upward, deliver a little dharma influence and also, I think, evoke a touch of festive birthday-party-esque
The shelving (above) in Kaspar’s room is directly inspired by shelving in Montessori classrooms (open, eye-level, made of wood). I scored some empty wine crates from a local vino shop and affixed their bases to the walls. Actually, Aaron did the affixing— this room’s been a team effort; I should give the dadman some cred! Kaspar’s toy vehicles live on one shelf, and his wooden play-food on another. A small display shelf from Maple Shade Kids
helps keep small toys from getting lost (and does a bit of displaying—we rotate family photos in the little monkey photo stand).
Kaspar LOVES to read. He always has, and I’m grateful for it, since he’ll sit still for long stetches under the influence of books. He has tons of them – and knows many by heart. We keep them in the bookshelf shown above, which was custom-made by this Etsy dad
Here’s a little bit of wall art, both functional and decorative. The giraffe and man-eating-shark hooks came from World Market
, and hang discreetly behind Kaspar’s door. They’re within reach for him, too, so he can hang his own hoodies (or necklaces, as the case may be) – also a Montessori thing. The painting is my attempt at making art… Bear in mind that I’m married to an accomplished painter and illustrator
, with words being more my thing, so I stuck with what I know (I’ll leave the real painting to the pro) and stenciled an Albert Einstein quote onto a canvas I’d painted blue (and white… artistic, right?). The full quote is actually, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Einstein was awesome.
Kaspar’s rug is from Ikea. We bought it for his baby-room, which he spent little time in, but now the rug’s getting plenty of use (here, it’s an ocean, and the book’s an island). Kaspar's also peed on it countless times, so I’m glad we stuck with what we had, which was a low-impact (wallet-wise) purchase to begin with. It does the job, is easy to clean, and feels cozy under foot. I also really love the color and design. Here’s to Ikea. If their stuff were a little more eco-friendly -- I’m not such a fan of pressure-treated wood and particle-board -- I’d be a die-hard fan. Ikea, take note!
At last, we have Kaspar’s bed, which is a full twin, but low to the ground so he can climb in and out of it himself. He’s slept in this since he was about fourteen months old, when we tried to find a good co-sleeping setup
that actually allowed us to, you know, sleep. We stuck this bed beside our own, back in our apartment, but decided it should stay a full room, and two full doors (both of which Kas can open, but whatever), away from our bed here in our house. Kaspar still sleeps in our bed a lot, and Aaron and I spend many nights beside him in his, and – for the most part – this works for us, for now. I think it’s important that Kaspar does have ‘his’ bed, however, as a step toward delineating sleeping spaces. We're getting there; he’s continuing to sleep through the night, alone, more than he used to (we’re clocking a couple of nights a week), which is super exciting for all of us, and it’s the separate bed that makes it possible.
Thanks for visiting! Whatcha think? What’s in your kids’ rooms? And, I'm looking for treatment ideas for Kaspar's bedroom window... Got any?
In the last week, our ever-sweet Kaspar threw us a curve and acquired something of a split personality. I’ve heard two-year-olds described (only half-jokingly) by other parents as “in a nutshell, psychopathic,” but the description never fit our kid, until now. Not that he didn’t have his moments, but this past week… he had many. He brought a whole new game, and honestly, we were kind of mystified and at a loss as to how to handle it.
Kaspar would be behaving in his usual happy-go-lucky way, chirping about this or that, when he’d suddenly do something he knows he shouldn’t: mess with Aaron’s computer, throw toys, hit us, you name it. We’d calmly explain that the behavior wasn’t okay, and ask him to stop. He’d ignore us. We’d give it another go, with our communication again falling on deaf ears. Then we’d tell him we were about to remove the object in question (or remove him from its proximity), and he’d FLIP out. Full-on howler monkey style. This happened at seemingly random times, and over seemingly inconsequential happenings (one such episode erupted when he decided he wanted the food I’d just put in my own mouth and swallowed. Another strawberry simply wouldn’t suffice… he wanted mine, although he knew as well as I did that it was gone). It’s all been rather confusing to the logical adult mind. Kaspar is extremely articulate for his age, too, which can be misleading in these types of interactions; he may scream something that sounds like a negotiation, but it’s not. He can’t be reasoned with when under the influence of toddlerhood. In fact, he’s tended to get upset while saying he wants to do one thing, and it’s opposite, all in the same breath.
We used distraction throughout the week as our main method for coping with his outbursts, and that worked when distraction was plausible. But in the case of refusing to settle down at bedtime, for example, we just ended up saying, in so many words, that we had the upper hand, and this –going to bed – was what was happening. (Because we said so… though we didn’t say that. Too cliché!).
Kaspar kept it more reined in at school, as I learned upon inquiring with his teacher as to whether anything had happened there (some upsetting event? I was worried) that might have led to this shift. Nothing had. His teacher told me this kind of experience is totally, 100% normal and predictable behavior with kids at around 2 and a half. So we’re early… sweet. He’s testing us, obviously. He’s also exploring and asserting his independence. I’m actually glad he is, as he’s been such an all-out sweetheart since day one that other, more aggressive kids his age have tended to overwhelm (or straight up plow over) him. I have only ever wanted to nurture him and love him for who he is, so I never set out to toughen him up or anything like that (I love his sweetheart self), but it’s good, no doubt, that he’s now starting to try the words “NO!” and “That’s MINE. Walk AWAY!” on for size. Since this has also amounted to some challenges, lately, at home, though, I’ve wanted to handle his freakouts here in the best way possible. I don’t want to discourage his burgeoning independence, and I also want to help him handle tough emotions constructively, and to know where the boundaries are. (On the emotions front, he moves on from the drama pretty quickly, which I appreciate. I also bear this in mind when he acts like the world is about to end because he’s not allowed to draw all over the walls).
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We went to Kaspar's school's Fall Festival today. It was super freaking fun.
Traditional work environments and schedules, while fairly straight-forward in their structure and demands, give rise to… agitation in me. I’ve always been ‘good’ at the desk jobs I’ve had—much like I was always ‘good’ at school—but I’ve also had the sense that being ‘good’ at those things was 90% bullshit and 10% outsmarting the system. There’s a limit to the value that can emerge from that kind of combination. Luckily, some people foster real passion within the structure of a nine-to-five, and others (also luckily) erect some other kind of structure, and then fidget and fiddle with the pieces until things feel relatively right.
I’m now in the latter category, as is Aaron—he’s never had an office job, even as filler. I have a part-time job with a flexible schedule (slash boss), and we both do freelance work. We’ve been splitting our days and tag-teaming nights for a year, since moving to Austin, fitting work and life around each other like some kind of thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Juggling 100% DIY kiddo-care with work, finances, marriage and what remains of our individual selves/passions/pursuits (just kidding… sort of… the important parts do remain) we’ve landed upon a happy, sometimes stressful, but ultimately liberating chaos that has benefited us, and—most notably—our son. In exchange for frequent late work nights, which aren’t ‘all that’ at all when you’ve been up since dawn, we’ve had the opportunity to split daytime Kaspar-watch right down the middle (I do mornings, Aaron’s on in the afternoons). As a result, our relationships with him are built on strong foundations and rooted in closeness. It’s been worth it, without question, and it’s what I imagined when dreaming up our move to Austin a year ago.
Looking ahead to the coming fall, though, we realized that the time might be upon us when we introduce some childcare into the mix. Both of our schedules will kick up a notch or ten beginning in September, and while we could continue to juggle in the way that we have been, perhaps hiring a babysitter for those times when we’re both expected elsewhere, that option just isn’t very viable, or appealing, anymore. Having some portion of the day when we can both attend to the things we need to (I’ll be attending class in the mornings this fall, and Aaron will be working) will mean that we’ll be able to organize our remaining time in a much less frenetic manner. Kaspar, too, has lately been showing all signs of readiness to branch out from our foundation. He loves playdates and is fascinated with other kids, and is just Mister Interactive—he’s exploring everything within his environments, and a positive, engaging childcare setting will probably be just his speed.
So, where to start with that?
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